Detroit should legalize keeping of farm animals

The Detroit News

Of all Detroit’s problems, goats aren’t one of them. That’s why the City Council should adopt a law to legalize husbandry and allow residents in Detroit to care for livestock.

Keeping livestock is illegal under city ordinance, but a growing number of residents throughout the city raise goats, chickens and other small farm animals despite the current law. And given the vast open spaces in many neighborhoods, they can do so without disturbing other residents.

Council member James Tate is spearheading the effort to legalize the keeping of farm animals in Detroit, and the city has already worked with experts at Michigan State University and the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to identify issues any proposed regulations need to address.

It’s considering a law that would allow residents to keep chickens, ducks, goats, rabbits, honeybees and sheep as an accessory activity for grazing on vacant lots and producing food items such as eggs, meat, milk and honey.

The city passed an ordinance in 2013 that did for urban gardening what new laws could do for urban agriculture. It passed in response to large demand from residents for large, commercial gardens.

Today, Detroit gardening supports projects, such as Greening of Detroit and a recently announced Recovery Park location, that revitalize formerly blighted swaths of land and bring the city revenue through taxes and other activity.

Detroit, at 139 square miles, occupies a huge footprint. A third of that land is vacant. There’s no reason raising small farm animals should be illegal throughout it. The law should permit small farm animals, particularly in areas with few houses or commercial establishments.

Many urban residents also enjoy growing their own food, as well as having access to locally grown food, even if it’s not their own. With Detroit’s limited public transportation infrastructure, local farms make it easier for residents to access healthier food options.

It also encourages community. Some of these urban farmers are proactively using their space to get area children involved with the farming process, and to teach them how to grow and make their own food.

Additionally, the food and farming industry can boost the local economy significantly. A 2014 study by the Detroit Food & Fitness Collaborative found the city’s food system — which includes supply from local farms and market gardens, processing, distribution and market demand — currently produces $3.6 billion and employs more than 36,000 people.

Shifting Detroit’s reliance by 30 percent from non-local food sources to locally grown sources could create 52,000 additional jobs and produce $1.3 billion in earnings for Detroiters, according to the study, making the food industry the second largest private sector industry in Detroit.

Of course, the new law should also address how neighbors can resolve conflicts over the animals, and areas within the city that should remain animal-free. But the ordinance is expected to address most of those issues – permitting, euthanasia practices, noise and odor control, how to manage waste and sheltering.

The City Council should formalize the right of Detroiters to keep livestock safely while also respecting neighbors’ rights and concerns.